A prospective juror told the judge he couldn’t be on the jury. The dubious judge inquired why he couldn’t serve. The man answered, “Well, your Honor, I’m biased,” as he pointed to a man seated behind a table. “Just one look at that man convinced me he’s guilty.” The judge scowled and then growled, “That man’s not the defendant. He’s the district attorney.”
It can be difficult not to judge a book by its cover. We often do it, perhaps without even knowing it.
Another thing we do is misjudge ourselves. Just so you know, on average, men are more likely to overestimate their IQ intelligence by 5 points, while women are more likely to underestimate their IQ by a similar margin.
Actually if we were Christian according to Philippians 2:3 men should do just the opposite: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
Perhaps we could at least get a handle on not regarding others as less than ourselves.
Jesus tells us the ultimate objective is to be children of our “Father in heaven, who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” We are to be perfect in compassion, just as God is. Jesus is pointing to an equalizing reality or force in life that we ought to pay attention to, since it comes from heaven itself.
The movie Pocahontas sings loudly and proudly the need for reconciliation between races and recognition of diversity among peoples. It is a nice movie with a beautiful song.
Pocahontas actually had several names. She was born Matoaka, grew up among her people known as Amonute, and later married and was known as Rebecca Rolfe, (c. 1595 – March 1617). Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah, encompassing the Tidewater region of Virginia.
In a well-known but probably not historical accurate anecdote, she is said to have saved the life of an Indian captive, Englishman John Smith, in 1607 by placing her head upon his own when her father raised his war club to execute him.
Pocahontas was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to
Christianity, took the name Rebecca, and married tobacco planter John Rolfe. In January 1615, she gave birth to Thomas Rolfe. Pocahontas’s marriage to Rolfe was the first recorded interracial marriage in North American history.
In 1616, the Rolfes traveled to London where Pocahontas was presented to English society as an example of the civilized “savage” in hope of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She became something of a celebrity, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace. In 1617, the Rolfes set sail for Virginia, but Pocahontas died at Gravesend of unknown causes. She was buried in a church there but the exact location is unknown.
Pocahantas’ descendants through her son Thomas include members of the First Families of Virginia, First Ladies Edith Wilson and Nancy Reagan, and astronomer Percival Lowell.
In our scripture, Peter begins by saying that “God shows no partiality.” In the Greek, Peter’s first line is “God is no receiver of faces.” The human face, no matter how rich or poor, light or dark, symmetrical or asymmetrical receives no “brownie points” with God.
But this isn’t such an easy truth to believe about God, nor to live within ourselves. Joel Engel, a Los Angeles based writer, who writes frequently for the New York Times, tells of an experience he once had aboard a Los Angeles bus.
Considering the large crowd inside, the lack of voices startled me; only a rustle of newspapers and the groaning diesel engine broke the silence. Several well-dressed men stood in the aisle, so I assumed all seats were taken. But, as I moved to the rear, I spotted an empty aisle seat on a double bench, and wondered, to myself, why it was unoccupied.
The young man next to the window was breathing heavily, his face was covered with what appeared to be fibroid tumors. His long, filthy, matted hair, and tattered clothing also made him unappealing. He was obviously homeless, and it was easy to guess why. He sat with shoulders hunched and eyes fixed through the window.
Nearly paralyzed by pity, I gave silent thanks that my young daughter wasn’t with me, asking her inevitable questions about him in a none-too-discreet voice. But, it was because of her that I finally sat down. The kind of man I wanted my daughters’ father to be sits in a bus next to someone whose only crime is extreme ugliness. I can’t pretend that I relaxed. My left
shoulder and arm scrunched involuntarily. He continued to stare out the window without acknowledging my presence.
The bus made one more stop before entering the freeway. Several people boarded. An elderly woman walked toward the rear. I waited for anyone else to offer her a seat. None did, so I stood and motioned to her. Suddenly I heard, “No, I don’t want to sit there, next to him,” she said with no concern for who might hear.
For us, faces often matter—a lot.
And of course there are many different factors that we use to judge the merits or value of others to ourselves, and therefore to God.
After Peter declares that God refuses to let superficial characteristics have any influence, he follows up with what most commentators agree is something like an early Christian creed.
At its center of this profession of faith is the one “anointed” by God (the messiah), who dies on a tree. But according to Jewish law anyone who dies this way is “cursed,” literally cut off from the people of God, and of course God as well. By whatever measure—religious, social, cultural—the death of the Jew named Jesus was shameful and offensive. This earliest of Christian creeds goes out of its way to make sure everyone knows this.
And yet this person, Jesus Christ, the one most turned against, the one seen as outside of God’s love and care, cursed even, is the one on whom is placed the way of return back to God. Through this one who by all rendering and judging stands most outside of God comes the gift of divine forgiveness, holy reconciliation, and grace-filled righteousness.
The thing is, we forget this first, earliest Christian truth so easily.
That’s because for many Christ is no longer the one who is cursed but the one who is victorious. The cross is no longer about a crucifixion but about a triumph. We slide right past the humiliation to take a seat at the glorification.
This Christian amnesia, this forgetting where we come from and what God did first, opens the way for us only to see Christ’s triumph.
But the problem is when we see only Christ’s victory at the cross, and forget Christ’s humiliation, we can’t really be transformed. We aren’t empowered to live the way God revealed. We have yet to be freed to love as God loved and loves. We receive the form of Christian faith but little of its power.
If we want to see God’s power, we’ll have to look in some places where crosses rise first and resurrections come second.
Goree Island is one such place. It’s situated just off the coast of Senegal, West Africa, and was where captured Africans were collected and shipped off to slavery in the New World. Several years ago, a beautiful, powerful, and humbling speech was made there. Here is a key part of that speech. Not that this is the most important part but I want to wait until I’m finished before I tell who said it.
“For 250 years the African captives endured an assault on their culture and their dignity. The spirit of Africans in America did not break. Yet the spirit of their captors was corrupted. Small men took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters. Years of unpunished brutality and bullying and rape produced a dullness and hardness of conscience. Christian men and woman became blind to the clearest commands of their faith, and added hypocrisy to injustice. A republic founded on equality for all became a prison for millions. And yet in the words of the African proverb, “No fist is big enough to hide the sky.” All the generations of oppression under the laws of man could not crush the hope of freedom and defeat the purposes of God.
In America enslaved Africans learned the story of the Exodus from Egypt and set their own hearts on a promised land of freedom. Enslaved Africans discovered a suffering Savior and found he was more like themselves than their masters. Enslaved Africans heard the ringing promises of the Declaration of Independence—and asked the self-evident question, “Then why not me?” . . .
The evils of slavery were accepted and unchanged for centuries. Yet, eventually, the human heart would not abide them. There is a voice of conscience and hope in every man and woman that will not be silenced—what Martin Luther King called “a certain kind of fire that no water could put out.” That flame would not be extinguished at the Birmingham jail. . . . It was seen in the darkness here at Goree Island , where no chain could bind the soul. This untamed fire of justice continues to burn in the affairs of man, and it lights the way before us.”
This powerful and gorgeous speech was delivered by President George W. Bush.
Someone who clearly had the untamed fire of justice and equality burning inside of him was James, Jesus’ own brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church until he was martyred. He wrote the Letter of James.
For the record, James was a man of great faith, continuous prayer, and concern for the poor, the widow, and the outcast. So widely known was James’ devout prayer life and especially his devoted consideration of the needy that he was known throughout Jerusalem by Jews, Romans, and Christians as James the Just.
As chapter two of his letter begins, James gives a hypothetical scenario. Two men come into a church gathering. One is obviously wealthy, as seen by his gold ring and fine clothes. The other is obviously poor, as seen by his shabby clothes. Someone in the church directs the wealthy man to the best seat in the house, whereas the poor man is told to stand out of the way, or to sit down on the floor. The rich man is given privileges because of his wealth, but the poor man is despised because of his poverty.
Such favoritism, James says, shows partiality that doesn’t come from God. It also means the one who acts in such a way doesn’t “believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” This discrimination of one person’s worth over another is not what a Christian does.
I don’t know about you but I have given up on trying to figure out who God blesses and who God curses. I no longer believe, if I ever did, this is something that’s in my pay grade as Christ’s follower. If two people love each other, whoever they may be, I say let them marry. If someone isn’t of my faith, I say God still adores them as his own.
I have a hard enough time keeping all the moving pieces of my life and job and faith and family together and moving forward—I sure as heck don’t need the job of parsing out who’s in and who’s out from God’s perspective.
But more important than this, I simply can’t find my spiritual path in Christ other than by opening myself to attempting to love all. My spiritual walk and my soul’s journey cannot take on the harsh edge and hard heart of someone who discriminates, of someone who keeps hatred alive. Call me weak, or call me meek, but I know the more I am like this the closer I feel I come to the Christ who taught love for the shunned and was himself shunned.
Let judging go. Leave discrimination to someone else. Let your heart be reconciled to those you’ve separated yourself from. Be transformed by the power of the cross that includes all and then may you be raised in God’s strength.
Can anybody say Amen?